Revelations surface from the two ‘advisory’ group meetings on the Interstate Bridge

Is solving traffic congestion problems one of the priorities for the IBRP?

Two advisory groups have been created to provide input on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP). The 22-member Equity Advisory Group (EAG) and the 34-member Community Advisory Group (CAG) both had their initial meetings this week. Overseeing the entire process is Greg Johnson IBRP Administrator and his WSP consultant team.

Overseeing both these committees is a 12-member Executive Steering Group (EAG). They also provide direction to Johnson and the IBRP team. The final oversight is provided by a Bi-state Bridge Committee with 16 members of the Oregon and Washington legislatures. Most recently the legislators have grappled with an estimated $2 billion funding shortfall if the team were to build the failed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project.

During discussions at Monday’s EAG meeting, Administrator Johnson made the following statement.

“One of the things that I also tell folks, if you’re here and you think we’re going to talk about a third bridge, or we’re going to talk about not doing the Interstate Bridge, you’re in the wrong meeting.  The whether we’re gonna do this has been decided. 

“What we are looking at is how we’re going to do it. And one of the ways we’re going to do it is with a focus on equity. So I am, I’m tremendously excited. This is my 38th year in transportation. I’ve spent my life in the DOT world, and some of you may raise an eyebrow. But let me tell you, I’ve seen the DOT ‘s, at their best and at their worst. And what we’re doing here is the DOT world at their best and bringing folks together with disparate viewpoints to help make decisions and help solve problems. So I am I’m tremendously excited about this”

Greg Johnson is the administrator of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP). Photo by IBRP
Greg Johnson is the administrator of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program (IBRP). Photo by IBRP

Clark County Today reached out to Johnson, asking the following:

• Johnson states we’re NOT going to talk about a 3rd Bridge. He further states that “not doing the Interstate Bridge, you’re in the wrong meeting.”

• Is Mr. Johnson open to doing a seismic upgrade to the existing bridge(s) in addition to building a new bridge, to allow the current bridge to be used as a “local” bridge connecting to/from Hayden Island?

• Is Mr. Johnson open to a tunnel under the river?

• Mr. Johnson says he wants to bring people together with disparate viewpoints to help make decisions and help solve problems. What is the problem Mr. Johnson wants solved? Please elaborate.

• Is solving traffic congestion one of the problems Mr. Johnson wants to solve?

• How important is solving traffic congestion problems to Mr. Johnson?

Here are the responses we received via email Wednesday afternoon.

Identifying transportation needs and developing alternatives

Johnson: “The program is in the beginning stages of the process to identify the range of replacement bridge alternatives that could meet the needs of the region, so it is too soon to say if specific alternatives such as a supplemental bridge or tunnel will ultimately advance through this process. 

“One of the first steps in the coming months is to work with the community to update the program’s Purpose and Need and establish the Vision and Values for the program, which together will set the foundation for screening alternatives to eventually arrive at a preferred solution. The Purpose and Need will identify the transportation problems that any alternative must be able to address. The community Vision and Values will identify regional priorities related to potential transportation improvements and program outcomes that will be used to further evaluate alternatives.

“While the program is in the early stages of working with stakeholders and the public to identify the transportation problems that need to be solved by the program, the issue of congestion and travel reliability is one of the issues identified in previous planning work that has not been addressed, along with seismic vulnerability, safety, limited public transportation, impaired freight movement, and substandard bicycle and pedestrian facilities. These previously identified transportation problems will be used as a starting point as we work with partner agencies, advisory groups, and the public to ensure the updated list of problems reflects current and future needs. 

“It is important to note that any alternative must be able to address all of the final transportation needs identified for this program to advance for further consideration. Part of program development work moving forward will include gathering new data to identify what has changed in the program area, as well as working with local stakeholders and experts to help determine if there are any new considerations that should be accounted for as we develop the Purpose and Need and move toward identifying and analyzing replacement alternatives.”

Working with differing perspectives to find solutions

Johnson: “The advisory groups are a key part of broader community engagement efforts designed to provide a wide range of opportunities for the public to engage and provide input and help shape program work. A great deal of consideration was put into selecting the members to serve on both the Community Advisory Group and Equity Advisory Group to ensure the overall membership reflects a broad range of backgrounds, perspectives, and stakeholder interests. This reflects the recognition that there will be many different perspectives on how to best address transportation problems, as well as the commitment to work with these groups to develop consensus recommendations to help identify a solution that reflects community needs and priorities.”

The IBRP will have the opportunity to modify the previous Purpose and Need statement that defines the problems the project is supposed to solve. The previous Purpose and Need statement in the failed Columbia River Crossing effort. Graphic IBRP
The IBRP will have the opportunity to modify the previous Purpose and Need statement that defines the problems the project is supposed to solve. The previous Purpose and Need statement in the failed Columbia River Crossing effort. Graphic IBRP

Additional context on the challenges of reusing the existing structures

Johnson: “Previous project work identified the need to remove the existing structures once the new bridge was complete, given a number of factors such as marine navigation, environmental concerns, the high cost of ongoing operations and maintenance costs, and the inability to upgrade the structures to full modern seismic standards. It is therefore unlikely that a future solution would include keeping the existing bridges, however, we still have work to do to identify changes within the program area since the last project, and determine whether the same challenges still exist with keeping the old structures.”

On Wednesday, the CAG held their first meeting. At the end of Wednesday’s CAG meeting, Tom Gentry – community member of the CAG asked: “Is the current bridge being removed, repurposed or replaced?”

Johnson answered Gentry with the following. “We’ve looked at it and the operational cost and the maintenance costs of keeping the existing bridge and making a different connection would be overwhelming. So right now, the plans would be to remove the existing bridge.”

During the CAG meeting, it was discussed that the IBRP team would be getting updated traffic origination and destination (O&D) data. CAG member Jana Jarvis of the Oregon Trucking Association (OTA) asked if that updated O&D study would include trucking and freight. Johnson assured her his team would be soliciting that information from her organization, in addition to data from all the participating organizations.

Yet the current plan is for the IBRP team to propose an updated Purpose and Need statement to these groups in March, which will define the problem to be solved. One might wonder how a “defining the problem” via the Purpose and Need statement, can happen without current traffic, freight and transit numbers, including O&D data. The data used in the CRC is a decade old.

There will be a joint “training” meeting of the CAG and EAG on Saturday. There will be two meetings of the CAG in February, and two in March.

Currently, there are four “community conversations” scheduled via Zoom meetings during the month of February. The schedule can be viewed on the IBRP website here


About The Author

John is a retired airline pilot, serving Delta for over 31 years. Prior to Delta, he served in the US Air Force for 11 and a half years; three and a half years as a Public Affairs Officer and eight years as a pilot. John flew multiple airplanes around the world for Delta, retiring as a B-767 Captain. During his 31 years at Delta, John served as a member of the pilot’s union leadership, representing the Portland-based pilots for five years. John got involved in area politics during the Columbia River Crossing debate. He became a citizen activist, speaking out against wasteful spending and fighting for common sense transportation solutions. He ran for the Washington state legislature twice, a Representative position in 2014 and Senate in 2020. John is the eldest of six children. He remains extremely close with members of his family and lives in Oregon and Washington. He has 14 nieces and nephews and a growing number of “grands” in the next generation. John has enjoyed skiing, scuba diving, travel, and time on his Harley when he’s not busy with local issues or flying.

Related posts